By James Murphy | NHL.com Correspondent
Four years from now, when Boston Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli is up for a new contract, Bruins ownership, fans and the media may well look back to July 1 as the biggest day in the Bruins' 2006 off-season. But August 22 may also be viewed as a pivotal moment in Chiarelli's career and the future of the organization.
|Bergeron led the Bruins in goals and points in 2005-06 with career-high totals of 31 goals and 42 assists for 73 points. |
Tuesday, Chiarelli announced the team had come to terms with restricted free agent Patrice Bergeron
on a new deal that will pay the 21-year-old budding star $23.7 million over five years and cost the Bruins an average of $4.75 million against the $44 million salary cap.
One prominent former Bruin looked on the signing as a victory for Bruins fans.
"I'm a huge fan of Bruins fans and I've felt that they deserve more than what they've gotten over the last few years," Hall of Famer Cam Neely said. "Management, in my view, has certainly turned things around and I think after the lockout and last season, they finally realized that some changes needed to be made. They're sending a message that what happened in the past isn't going to happen this year or in the future."
Back on July 1, Boston was able to land two of the best unrestricted free agents in center Marc Savard
and defenseman Zdeno Chara
, but Tuesday the Bruins locked up the player they believe is the true future of the franchise, whose presence allowed them to trade away Joe Thornton last November.
"We feel that Patrice can step into the leadership and centerpiece role we had envisioned Joe in at one time," former General Manager Mike O'Connell said in the aftermath of the Thornton deal. "Patrice has a very bright future in this league."
Assistant General Manager Jeff Gorton, who helped orchestrate both the Thornton trade and now the new Bergeron deal, echoed those sentiments.
"Over the last two years in the AHL, during the lockout, and the NHL last season, Patrice has shown us his dedication to the game and we've want to make it clear to him that we view him as an important part of the future," Gorton said just prior to the announcement that Bergeron had been re-signed.
Chiarelli wasn't here for Bergeron's first three seasons with the Bruins, but from what he has seen of the 2003 second-round pick, Bergeron is a complete player.
|Bergeron became the youngest player in team history to record a 30-goal season with a two-goal effort vs. Montreal on April 13, 2006, eclipsing Barry Pederson’s 1981-82 mark. |
"I've been a fan of Patrice for a long time, even though he was a nemesis when I was with Ottawa" Chiarelli admitted. "Aside from his outstanding skill and ability, he took on our top defensemen on the forecheck and didn't back down. That's an intangible I see in Patrice, along with his character, which is outstanding. He's a competitor, a game breaker and I've had fun watching him over the last few years. He has the ability to lead and carry this team."
Chiarelli also said that with the signing of Bergeron, the pieces are now in place for him to evaluate the team and see if any changes are needed.
"I'm always looking to improve the team, but I'm very satisfied with this team as it stands now," he said. "I want to see how the players mix with each other in chemistry and prospective lines."
Bergeron's linemate and good friend Brad Boyes, who recently re-signed, also said that in the long run the Bergeron signing could prove to be Chiarelli's best move.
"Patty's one of our best players and getting him signed was the biggest move," Boyes said. "Signing Chara and Savard and all the other things they did were huge, but this was the biggest thing they had to do for now and for the future. He's our best player and our youngest player and he's only getting better.
"This is good for everyone and management keeps making a statement to us and the fans that they want to win, so that's great too!"
Bergeron, who scored a team-leading 73 points last season, is now in the payroll class of Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal, who had a 100-point breakout season in 2005-06 and helped his team win the Stanley Cup. Boyes said Bergeron will, over the course of this contract, prove to be just as good if not better than Staal.
"He is already one of the best all-around players in the league and if this team is ever going to go that far, he will be one of the biggest reasons," Boyes said.
The Bruins have been notorious for heading into training camp and sometimes the season with players holding out. Many times, this resulted in the player being traded or slumping, at times with the team following suit.
To get a player like Bergeron in the fold and avoid a holdout was, according to Chiarelli, important to the stability of the franchise.
"It was important to get this deal done," Chiarelli said. "We both made concessions and it was a happy ending."
So while many will think of the Chara and Savard signings as the Chiarelli regime's statement that things are changing on Causeway Street, they will also think back to the day he locked up Bergeron, the player many feel can lead this team to a Stanley Cup.